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EU-ACP TRADE TALKS FAIL TO ADDRESS DEVELOPMENT

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BRUSSELS, Mar 11 2008 (IPS) - Trade deal negotiations between the EU and African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries ended in a mess, writes Glenys Kinnock, Labour Party Member of the European Parliament. In this article, Kinnock writes that from the outset the European Commission negotiators approached the talks as if they were conventional free-trade area negotiations rather than tools for development. Now is the time for the EU to put development priorities back at the heart of the issue. There has to be a more participatory approach, more transparency, respect, and understanding for ACP regional and national interests. We urgently need a further opening of EU markets to ACP products, particularly agricultural products, which are the main exports for ACP countries. We must also ensure that the EC doesn\’t pressure ACP countries to liberalise services, investment, and government procurement, or to strengthen intellectual property rights or the inclusion of competition rules within EPAs. These EU-ACP trade agreements are absolutely critical to the future of the poorest countries in the world. We must ensure they are a genuine force for development.

It’s a fair description. But of course it wasn’t meant to be that way. When negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) began in 2000 it was with the best of intentions – to agree WTO- compatible trading arrangements that would contribute to poverty alleviation, development, and regional economic integration.

Yet as the December 2007 deadline approached, those of us who had closely followed the negotiations despaired as we saw the process become increasingly mired in conflict and contention.

The fact is that from the outset the European Commission (EC) negotiators approached the talks on EPAs as if they were conventional free-trade area negotiations focused on market opening, rather than tools for development.

And so the agreements -except those regarding the Caribbean- were inevitably scaled back, with WTO-compatible interim deals, mainly on trade in goods, signed in haste. Of the 79 ACP countries that took part in the talks, fewer than a third agreed interim EPAs by the 31 December 2007 deadline.

Perhaps the biggest casualty of the whole process was regional integration. Though it has been reiterated time and time again that regionalism is a key component of a progressive development strategy, the Commission’s policy of concluding separate deals with individual states, or groups of countries, has possibly irreversibly splintered ACP regions.

In Central Africa for example, only Cameroon, because of its high volume of trade with the EU, has signed up to an interim EPA. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in friction between Cameroon and other governments in the regional grouping.

The Commissioner blames this clearly limited outcome on NGOs and even on the European Parliament members like myself. This, I believe, fails to recognise the disquiet and concern that has been most forcibly expressed by ACP governments, parliaments, and their private sectors, and by business people, farmers, trade unions, and civil society more generally.

Several countries agreed, at the eleventh hour, but only because they needed to maintain market access. This was particularly the case for non-Least Developed Countries, which do not qualify for the EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ agreement for duty-free, quota-free market access, and which, as a result, were threatened with major tariff hikes and trade disruption if they failed to initial an interim deal.

Indeed an ACP Ministerial Declaration in December 2007 made this clear when it said they ”deplored the enormous pressure which they had been under and regretted the fact that the process had been contrary to the letter and spirit of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.”

In response to ACP criticism at the EU-Africa Summit, European Commission President Barroso appeared to promote opportunities for adjustments to interim agreements. Yet the Commission now asserts that this is not, and never was, the case.

This confusion must be addressed, not least because the Central and West Africa agreement explicitly refers to the possibility of adjustment at regional level. Similarly, Namibia has annexed declarations providing for amendments.

In order to successfully fulfil its mandate to conclude EPAs with the ACP that are primarily tools for development, building on and strengthening the regional integration processes, the EU needs to work on a focused, development-friendly package.

We still do not have a clear picture of what has been concluded by each country, and how. But it certainly appears that EPAs will end up closely resembling the EC’s ambitious bilateral deals, with very few development concerns thrown in.

The International Food Policy Research Institute has estimated full implementation of EPAs in 2035 would see EU exports to the ACP increase by 29.4 billion euros while ACP exports could fall by 6.5 billion euros.

Let us be clear: economic restructuring to accommodate EPAs will be expensive and needs long-term resources to deal with capacity- building supply-side constraints, loss of fiscal revenue, and much else. The EU claims that recycled money for the 10th European Development Fund, covering the period 2008-13, and pledged at 22.7bn euros, will be enough to cover both ongoing development assistance plus additional EPA costs.

The Member States promised a further 1bn euros a year but I think we can fairly assume that since it has not yet been committed, it is unlikely to ever materialise.

ACP governments have put pressure on the EU to make binding commitments in the legal text of each EPA to provide the resources necessary. However, the EC argues that EPA negotiations are about trade, not development aid.

In the EU budget there is 55 billion euros a year to support the process of change, and yet ACP agricultural producers are meant to restructure their economies and cope with a liberalised trading environment in circumstances where – let’s face it – they are drought prone, flood prone, and still use donkeys and ploughs to farm their land.

Now is the time for the EU to build bridges and work to deliver a fair deal which puts development priorities back at the heart of the issue. There has to be a more participatory approach, more transparency, respect, and understanding for ACP regional and national interests.

We urgently need a further opening of EU markets to ACP products, particularly agricultural products, which are the main exports for ACP countries.

The need for reform on Rules of Origin must be addressed, as must EU subsidies that harm ACP producers – particularly on rice, sugar, poultry, cotton, fruit, and vegetables.

We must also ensure that there is no attempt made by the EC to pressure ACP countries to liberalise services, investment, and government procurement, or to strengthen intellectual property rights or the inclusion of competition rules within EPAs. ACP countries should not be obliged to negotiate binding commitments in these areas which are not required for WTO compliance.

These trade agreements between the EU and the ACP are absolutely critical to the future of the poorest countries in the world. We must ensure they are a genuine force for development. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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